Gen Con 2013: Hex – Shards of Fate
Last week, Zach and I got a chance to go hands-on with an alpha build of HEX: Shards of Fate, a digital-only trading card game that had a massively successful Kickstarter run in June. The game was on display at Cryptozoic’s booth, the company responsible for publishing the very successful World of Warcraft card game.
One of HEX’s developers ran us briefly through the rules of the game, and I was able to play through a complete match, over 10 to 20 minutes. The gameplay itself was all that was on display at Gen Con with developer’s being up front about the fact that most of the game’s external systems and social elements have yet to be implemented in a playable demo.
One thing is immediately worth saying: HEX is very, very much Magic: The Gathering, and its digital implementation is very much Duels of the Planeswalkers. Although I had a developer at my side to run me through the demo, I knew exactly how to control the interface and mostly how to play the game. I was given a Wild deck and facing off against an opponent wielding a Blood deck. After a few turns, it was clear that these were essentially Green and Black analogues, respectively. Being Magic certainly isn’t a bad thing as that gameplay formula has worked out quite well for Wizards of the Coast over the years. It’s just a matter of how HEX will differentiate itself at launch on whether or not I see it really being able to be successful.
The overall look of the game is solid. The Duels of the Planeswalker-esque interface is a great design (as it was for Magic), and it works well overall, although Cryptozoic would be smart to implement Planeswalkers’ timer mechanic instead of the “Pass Priority” button that currently has to be clicked 10 or so times each turn.
The card art is bright and vibrant, more akin to the World of Warcraft TCG than anything else. The game’s overall look mimics the bright color palette of the art, feeling much brighter and exaggerated than most other digital card games I have played.
Each player takes on the role of a hero that is wielding the deck. Different heroes have different abilities that they are able to use on their turn by spending Shards, HEX’s version of Mana. In the demo, my hero could spend a number of shards in order to gain 6 life while my opponent was able to take 2 damage in order to draw a card. Taking and dealing damage seemed to be the main component of the Blood deck that I faced.
After I noticed the heavy similarities between HEX and Magic, I decided to dig a bit deeper into how HEX is hoping to stand out from that massive elephant that has been in the trading card game space for years. The developer on hand was fairly quick to answer.
HEX will be free to play with new player’s receiving a starter deck of their choice. Additional booster packs will be available for purchase for $2 each. It seemed safe to assume that certain pre-constructed decks would also be up for purchase although that wasn’t confirmed during the demo.
Since HEX is selling itself as a “trading card game,” it is worth noting that players are going to be able to trade cards with one another. This is one of the many aspects that Cryptozoic is planning to flesh out in the future, alongside the game’s social aspects which was also stressed as being a large component of the final project.
Lastly, Cryptozoic is developing a PvE campaign with cooperative components like raids that was described as something that would “make Magic’s singleplayer campaign look like nothing at all.” This campaign will play into the game’s character creation and progression elements, something that was described in the Kickstarter but was also not shown at the Gen Con demo.
Overall, I came away from my brief time with HEX: Shards of Fate feeling very conflicted. While I have been a huge fan of the Duels of the Planeswalkers games over the last several years and would love to get another similar game, it all feels like a massive gamble at this point. Cryptozoic mentioned that they are looking to create a “strong, friendly community” after hearing that Magic’s community was harsh on new and casual players. That is certainly something that is easier said than done. Again, I was told of a large-scale PvE campaign, character progression, player trading and player guilds/social elements. All things that sound great in concept but at this point, remain to be seen.
Player trading is a great feature, but in order to really work for me, it needs to be more than just a simple trade window between two online friends. Trading should be simple and global. If I have Card X and am willing to trade it for Card Y, I should be able to list my desired trade on a trade board or auction house so that any player can see that trade and fulfill it, if they are looking for Card X. With a vibrant trading system, I could see myself getting invested in the game monetarily since the card’s would almost act as a kind of virtual currency, but if I have to have other friends playing and online in order to trade, I feel like the value of those cards would be much, much lower overall. It will be interesting to see what kind of system Cryptozoic implements in the end.
I can say that the concept of HEX is an exciting one, even if the core gameplay hardly differentiates itself from Magic. The developer running me through the demo talked about how they are looking to embrace the digital-only aspects of the game and give cards unique mechanics that can only be done in the digital space, like creating entire new cards for your deck (or your enemy’s) or permanently changing a card’s text or art for the remainder of the game. I did not see any element like this in my demo, but I am certainly intrigued by the concept.
Duels of the Planeswalker has always failed to really capitalize on giving its multiplayer any real breadth, its campaign something more than just a number of one-on-one scenarios, and its online aspects much of a community. HEX: Shards of Fate could come out of the gate swinging with a slew of features that we have never really seen in a modern, digital card game, but none of that was shown in action at this time so all I can really say is that I am cautiously optimistic about HEX. The ambition is clearly there. Now, let’s see if they can execute on it.
HEX: Shards of Fate is slated for closed alpha later this year.